The Temple of Confucius

The Temple of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong Province, China is the largest and most renowned temple of Confucius in East Asia. The temple covers an area of 16,000 square meters and has a total of 460 rooms. The main part of the temple consists of 9 courtyards arranged on a central axis, which is oriented in the north-south direction and is 1.3 km in length. The first three courtyards have small gates and are planted with tall pine trees, they serve an introductory function. The first (southernmost) gate is named “Lingxing Gate” after a star in the Great Bear constellation, the name suggests that Confucius is a star from heaven (Liu, 2010). The buildings in the remaining courtyards form the heart of the complex. They are impressive structures with yellow roof-tiles (otherwise reserved for the emperor) and red-painted walls, they are surrounded by dark-green pine trees to create a colour contrast with complementary colours (Murray, 1996). In 1994, UNESCO listed the Temple of Confucius as World Heritage Site.

A Long Loop of Destruction and Rebuilt

However, the history of the temple is a loop of destruction and rebuilt which continued about two thousand years. At first, the temple was only a three-room house that Confucius used to live. In 205 BC, Emperor Gao of the Han Dynasty was the first emperor to offer sacrifices to the memory of Confucius in Qufu. He set an example for many emperors and high officials to follow. Later, emperors would visit Qufu after their enthronement or on important occasions such as a successful war (Murray, 1996). At the same time, the status of this private house was raised to a sacred temple in the country. In 611 AD, the single house turned into a series of constructions by a big rebuilt. Then in 1012 and in 1094, during the Song Dynasty, the temple was extended into a design with three sections and four courtyards, around which eventually more than 400 rooms were arranged. However, in 1214, the temple was destroyed by vandalism and fire. It was restored to its former extent by the year 1302 during the Yuan Dynasty. Shortly thereafter, in 1331, the temple was framed in an enclosure wall modelled on the Imperial palace. In 1724, another fire largely destroyed the main hall and the sculptures it contained and the subsequent restoration was completed in 1730 (Liu, 2010). In total, the Temple of Confucius has undergone 15 major renovations, 31 large repairs, and numerous small building measures.

Historical plan of the Temple of Confucius (1912)


The Statue of Confucius

The Collision between Politics and Heritage

The long process of destruction and rebuilt to the Temple of Confucius is a reflection to the ruling class’s attitude to Confucianism. Culture heritage is closely connected with politics because one of the important functions of culture heritage is improving cultural and national identity, which is usually used as a political instrument to consolidate the rule (Liu, 2010). “Hegemony” is a concept stated by Italian politician Antonio Gramsci, which means that the ruling class can manipulate the value system and mores of a society, so that their view becomes the world view (Wang, 2013). Before the Yuan Dynasty, Confucianism is welcomed by emperors because the core idea of Confucianism is to follow the rules, which can help maintain social stability. By rebuilding the Temple of Confucius, the emperor hoped to keep the dominant position of Confucianism and enhance people’s identity to it.

However, since the Yuan Dynasty is established by Mongolians whose culture is totally different from Han, Confucianism was no longer appreciated by the emperor, which caused the destruction to the temple under acquiescence. As a result, it stirred up people’s anger and leads to a number of conflicts which almost made the empire falling apart. To maintain the domination, the emperor followed the former dynasties and rebuilt the temple, which was finally restored to its present scale.


A show to present traditional culture

The transform of the Temple of Confucius from a private house to a sacred temple and to a World Heritage Site is a long history of destruction and rebuilt. It reflects the change of political thought and the collision between politics and heritage.




By kanegen –, CC BY 2.0,

By From “Madrolle’s Guide Books: Northern China, The Valley of the Blue River, Korea.” Hachette & Company, 1912. Image from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin., Public Domain,



Murray, J.K., 1996. The temple of Confucius and pictorial biographies of the Sage. The Journal of Asian Studies55(2), pp.269-300.

Liu, H., Wei, Z., Gui, L., Liu, Y. and Shan, R., 2010, March. Three-dimensional reconstruction of buildings in the temple of Confucius. In Education Technology and Computer Science (ETCS), 2010 Second International Workshop on (Vol. 3, pp. 360-363). IEEE.

Wang, F., 2013. The temple of Confucius under the interaction with politics and heritage. Folklore Studies, (4), pp.101-106.,_Qufu